The Gift of the Blind Man

John 9:1-41

They had written him off.

The community had written the blind guy off. They were so busy judging him that they missed out on befriending and learning from him.

Maybe the blind guy has something to teach us about faith, about learning to navigate through the unknown.

Yet, in this story, the blind guy was relegated to a street corner to beg as if, somehow, his community had the sight problem and did not see him.   The blind man’s community did not creatively dream up ways to include him, to help him navigate his blindness or allow him to support himself in a dignified manner.  Instead, the townspeople relegated him to a street corner, writing him and his family off has sinners.

Then Jesus came by and it says Jesus “saw” him.  Jesus saw the human being in front of him.

The disciples are surprised by this and they wonder aloud:

“Whose fault is it that this man is blind?  Did he sin or did his parents?”

Who do we blame?

Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But in order that God’s works might be revealed in him it is necessary for us to work the works of the one who sent me.”

Jesus doesn’t answer the question of whose fault it is.

Jesus is saying, don’t waste time on finger pointing, instead, look in a different direction to see what God is doing right now.  Ask yourself: Where is the revelation of the glory of God in this and how do I stay really close to that?

Jesus is saying to the disciples:

Shift your focus. Open your hearts. Open your eyes.

Then Jesus bends down and gets to work amidst the spit and dirt of the world and makes mud and puts in on the blind man’s eyes.  The blind man washes the mud off in a pool and suddenly he can see: He can see Jesus. He can see himself. He can see his community.

The glory of God at work.

Yet, the formerly blind guy’s community was so busy writing him off that, when he shows up with his new found sight, his neighbors don’t believe it.  They ask, “Is this the same guy who was begging on the street corner?” “No, no,” they think, “It must be somebody else.”

Their limiting thoughts keep them from seeing the glory of God.

Their disbelief reminds me of a comment that my colleague and ordination mentor, the Rev. Dr. Rachel McGuire, made in a sermon a few years ago.  She said: “I use to think I was a good judge of people.  Do you ever think that: ‘I am a good judge of people’?”

Rachel said that she doesn’t think she is a good judge of people any more. Rachel has discovered that sometimes you think you understand and are in control and then everything you think you know becomes dismantled.  Rachel has discovered that we cannot judge the potential of others because God, God continually exceeds what we think is possible.  So Rachel has developed a spiritual practice of paying attention to the limiting thoughts she has, whether it be that someone cannot walk again, or make a living as a blind man, or that a person is “a certain type person” or someone cannot achieve something … each time, she tries to think: “Should I have a limiting thought about that?”

Should I have a limiting thought about that?

What if we are not a good judge of people?

I was pondering that question this week as I was watching an adventure reality show called “Expedition Impossible” in which teams of three competed against each other to endure mental and physical challenges in Morocco.  At the beginning of the competition, the teams were sizing each other up.  One of the teams, No Limits, had as one of its team members, Erik Weihenmayer, a blind mountaineer and outdoor adventurer.  Other teams were made of all men or all women or in the case of the Fab 3, had fashion conscious members that started the race with knee high teal socks.  At the beginning of the race, the fashion conscious members were saying that they didn’t want to lose to the blind guy and the blind guy was saying that he didn’t want to lose to the people with knee high socks and the fishermen didn’t want to lose to the women, because what would people say?

In the beginning, no one wanted to lose to a stereotype, because all people could see was the limitations they projected on one another based on ability, age, gender and dress.

I don’t want to spoil the end for you, but let me just tell you that the blind guy does pretty good.

What if we are not a good judge of people?

I don’t want to be a judge of people.

God though, God, is a good judge of people.

How do we create space for that?

How do we notice: this is a limiting thought and I don’t think it’s from God?

Maybe part of the spiritual practice is not only noticing the limiting thoughts we have for others, but also noticing the ones we have for ourselves:

How can I stop having limiting thoughts about what is possible for me?

Maybe not only the blind guy, but also the deaf person and the amputee have something to teach us, because they know what it’s like to navigate in a river of limiting thoughts.

Just this week, I read the story of Canadian Terry Fox.  Terry was nineteen years old when he was diagnosed with cancer.  A tumor appeared in his leg and he was rushed to the hospital, where his leg was amputated six inches above his right knee.

In the hospital recovering, Terry watched kids younger than him succumb to disease.  After eighteen months of chemotherapy, society expecting Terry to be reduced, to retreat – after all he had not only cancer but an amputation.  Instead, Terry did the opposite.  Terry made the decision to run, not just for a day or for a week, but through the entire country of Canada.  It was a marathon a day for thousands of miles.

Terry made this decision before the days of high-tech prosthetics, so in 1980 Terry ran on a clunky steel, fiberglass leg that created a herky-jerky gait and an awkward double step that required him to hop on his good leg and swing the other one forward.  His face was mixed with exhaustion and determination and, in his eyes, there was a light that gave intensity and power to his face.

At first, no one pay attention to Terry’s run, but by mid journey thousands of people were showing up to cheer Terry on.  They could suddenly see his potential.  On day 143, after running 3,339 miles, Terry was forced to stop because cancer had invaded his lungs.  As he stopped, he cried, saying, “I’ll fight.  I promise I will not give up.”

He died seven months later and yet, in his death, instead of shrinking, he had gotten bigger and inspired an entire nation.

The question here is not — who caused this — but how is the glory of God revealed in Terry’s life and how can we stay very close to that?

Shift your focus. Open your hearts.

As Terry ran, a blind boy named Erik Weihenmayer, who was losing his sight at that time, watched the story with his face pressed up against the TV and, even though it was fuzzy, Erik could see: there had been this light shining within Terry that had refused to be extinguished, neither in sickness nor in struggle.

That is the day that Erik, who became blind by the time he entered high school, started dreaming of his own future, of what he could do despite the limiting thoughts swirling around him …  Erik went on to adventure race, climb the seven highest summits of the world and kayak the Grand Canyon — blind.

Maybe the blind man has something to teach us about faith.

In the Scripture, after regaining sight, the formerly blind man encounters the Pharisee and they question him: How can it be that your sight was restored?  The man’s answer is simple … I don’t know exactly how it happened, but what I do know that is that I was blind and now I see.

The blind man sees his dignity and the dignity of those around him and is not afraid to address the Pharisees, even though it means he gets thrown out of his place of worship.

When Jesus hears what happens, Jesus finds the man and asks: Do you believe in God made flesh?

The man says, “Yes, I believe.”

Yes, I give my heart to God, to the Jesus movement, to this path of trust and faith.

The man’s faithfulness reminds me of a story that Erik, the blind boy now grown up, tells of trying to kayak the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  When Erik gets to the hardest rapid of the Colorado River, Erik’s kayak flips; Erik gives up, pulls his kayak skirt and swims to shore.

Disappointed by his failure to ride the rapid, Erik and his team set up camp nearby.  That night, as Erik listens to the river, he thinks of the massive forces that are bigger, than us, that alter the course of our life.  The odds seem impossible sometimes to overcome these forces and yet still people do: they try, they run, they grow in moments of hardship rather than diminishing.

In that moment, Erik recalls a song of by Mandy Harvey, which says, “I know one day I’ll get through and I’ll take my place again If I would try.”  Mandy lost hear hearing at age 18.  She didn’t know what she would do.  She loved music and had a pitch perfect voice, so one day, she decided to try, to keep singing, to write her own songs, even though she couldn’t hear them.  Her voice, for the record, is amazing.

Her music inspires Erik to give the rapids another try, because – maybe — it is possible for a blind man to make it through … so he tries again and he does it …

Maybe that is what faith is like, it’s like a song writer who can’t hear her music, a blind person paddling through rapids they cannot see, trusting the voices of the guides beside them, like an amputee running across Canada, like a formerly blind man preaching in a synagogue, saying I can’t explain how it happen, all I know is that I was blind and now I see.

Now I give my heart to this faith journey, even if I can’t see all the twists and turns; I trust in God’s voice to guide us forth, to make us whole.

We like the townspeople may be tempted to say: this is not possible.  Yet God reminds us that we are not a good judge of people.   God is and God invites us to have an open-heart policy that allows us to experience the life that comes after struggle and challenge.  God invites to stay open that together we might witness the breaking of dawn, the restoration of sight, the glory of God that awes us again and again.

Jesus asks: Where is the glory of God being revealed in this moment?

Look around.

Jesus asks: Do you believe?

Do you give your heart to God?


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